Tuesday 30 November 2021, 02:30

Marinovic: There is huge belief in the New Zealand squad

  • New Zealand seeking to reprise their much-celebrated South Africa 2010 qualification success

  • OFC and intercontinental play-off draw has unveiled the Kiwis’ pathway to Qatar 2022

  • New Zealand No.1 Stefan Marinovic hailed the team’s ambition and self-belief

New Zealand’s dramatic drought-breaking play-off win to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa remains a landmark moment for football – and indeed sport - in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Subsequent attempts to recreate that defining milestone have, however, ended in bitter disappointment. The Kiwis were humbled by an on-the-rebound Mexico at the mighty Azteca, and were then edged out by a battle-hardened Peru in yet another intercontinental play-off as Russia 2018’s global qualifying campaign drew to a close.

Now New Zealand has built a steely resolve to ensure it is not a case of third time unlucky.

“Hopes are high,” New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic told FIFA.com. “We weren’t far off last time. We have, in my opinion, a very good team. We have some great experience on the pitch. Going into the qualifiers there will be huge belief in the group.

“The coach has stamped his mark on the team in terms of culture and what his expectations are, and those expectations are to make the World Cup. Whatever happened in that World Cup play-off against Peru [in 2017] has been and gone.”

After Monday’s draw for the OFC preliminary competition, and last week’s intercontinental play-off draw, New Zealand’s path to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ has been laid out.

The New Zealanders face a testing five-match OFC campaign in a tournament – hosted in Qatar due to Covid-19 limitations - in late March. Their task is far from straight forward with group matches lined up against two-time OFC Nations Cup finalists New Caledonia, traditional Pacific contenders Fiji and 2016 continental runners-up Papua New Guinea.

How that gruelling two-week tournament plays out remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that if New Zealand are to again perform in world football’s great theatre in late 2022 they will need to win another intercontinental play-off. This time it will be against the fourth-placed Concacaf side – a position currently occupied by Russia 2018 participants Panama.

Marinovic is one of the key figures in a New Zealand squad that has been unable to enjoy significant international football in recent years. The New Zealanders have played just nine full internationals in the past four years, a period which includes 23 months without a single match.

The 30-year-old Israel-based Marinovic was a pillar of strength during New Zealand’s World Cup cycle four years ago. He saved two penalties to help the All Whites win the OFC Nations Cup, subsequently impressed at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and was cool under the white-hot pressure-cooker environment of that tense two-legged play-off against Peru.

A highly-regarded shot-stopper, Marinovic has enjoyed stints in Germany, England, MLS and with Wellington Phoenix, notably helping the New Zealand club to third in 2020 for their best-ever A-League campaign.

Now with 30 caps to his name, Marinovic was just one of five players in the most recent New Zealand squad to have accrued double-digit international appearances.

“We have a bunch of new players coming through from the U-20s and U-23s that are making a name for themselves. We have some fantastic players playing at the highest level and all our expectations are that we want to be at that World Cup.

“The coach stays in contact with us all and keeps on re-iterating that, reminding us to stay focussed on ourselves, but with one eye on the qualifiers and the chance of the World Cup.”

Stefan Marinovic of New Zealand makes a save